How to pollution-proof your skin and hair

You don’t have to move to the country side to protect your skin and hair from the perils of pollution. Just follow this simple tips to the T.

Woman wearing sunglasses and head scarf, pollution

It’s said that every wrinkle has a story behind it, and every grey hair has an experience to tell. This sounds very nice and philosophical, but not when you look in the mirror and notice wrinkles and grey hair staring back at you. Unfortunately, among urban women [and men!], the signs of ageing on the skin and hair are being seen at an earlier age than they used to be. What could be accelerating the ageing process for all of us? A big cause is the rising air pollution in most cities. The increase in particulate pollution, chemical waste and pesticides has a direct and visible effect on our skin and hair and dermatologists all around the world will testify to this.

Why pollution is such a big deal

Exposure to pollution creates free radicals in the body, which eventually get linked to the healthy cells of our skin and hair causing damage. What's more, pollution reduces the moisture content of our skin by depleting the protective barrier and makes the skin lose its suppleness and glow, hastening the appearance of wrinkles.

Dust can also oxidise inside your pores, clogging them and leading to pimples. There is also evidence that age spots appear early if you are being exposed to a lot of pesticides and toxins. Industrial level particulate matter can physically damage the skin, manifesting as redness and rash.

The increase in particulate pollution, chemical waste and pesticides has a direct and visible effect on our skin and hair

Increasing levels of air pollution also causes hair loss due to oxidative stress and free radical damage, apart from the loss of sheen. Researchers are increasingly identifying a condition known as ‘sensitive scalp syndrome’, due to increase in chemical as well as particulate pollution, causing oily scalp, dandruff, itching, pricking and pain in the roots of hair. It is common in folks who have migrated recently to an urban polluted city. Phew! So how do we save our skin and hair?

Eight commandments to pollution-proof your skin

Here are eight commandments that you must adhere to in order to keep your skin protected from the harmful effects of pollution.

  1. Create a barrier to protect: Physical protection is the easiest and one of the most effective ways of saving your skin and hair from the wrath of pollution, and as a bonus, sun damage. Cover yourself up. Use scarves, gloves, hats or masks every time you go out and will be exposed to pollution. What can’t touch you, won’t harm you.
  2. Use antioxidants to fight free radicals: They have to be our hero in the fight against free radicals. What free radicals leech from our skin, antioxidants replenish. Antioxidants can be consumed in the form of supplements and food. You can also apply an antioxidant rich serum at night after washing your face and, if you don’t mind the layering, also under your sunscreen when you step out. Increase your intake of green leafy vegetables, bight coloured foods like tomatoes, peppers, carrots and berries, nuts, and citrus fruits. Omega-3 fatty acids can be consumed in the form of food or pills, as they are anti-inflammatory too and also help in barrier repair.
  3. Man washing his face using a cleanserUnload the grime: Cleanse your skin off those nasty dust particles and toxins. Choose a non-soap based cleanser which is not harsh on your skin. If you have oily skin use a salicylic acid based cleanser; if your skin is dry, stick to a creamy cleanser. Make it a habit to wash your face as soon as you get back home. While travelling, keep wet wipes handy to clean your face frequently. Twice a week, exfoliate your skin with a physical or chemical exfoliator. If your skin is sensitive, don’t use a granule based scrub as it may cause micro injuries to the skin. Instead consult your dermatologist for a glycolic or salicylic acid based product to be applied on your skin overnight at least once a week.
  4. Hydrate, in and out: Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water. There is no fixed measure of how much is plenty as everyone’s needs vary, but try to keep your daily water intake to not less than two litres. Dehydrated skin is more prone to damage. Apply an antioxidant/retinol containing moisturiser at night.
  5. Sunscreen: Sunscreen is a guard not only against sun but also against pollution. It creates a layer on your skin deflecting as well as trapping the nanoparticles of dust and toxins thus preventing them from reaching the skin and causing damage. Be very generous with the quantity of sunscreen you apply and remember to re-apply it every four hours to keep the protection intact. But it’s important to choose a non-greasy sunscreen—you don’t want more dust and grime sticking to your face.
  6. Don’t forget to care for your eyes: Wear oversized sunglasses, even on a cloudy day. Dust and pollution, apart from the direct effect it has on the skin, might cause strain in your eyes causing early onset of crow’s feet.
  7. Woman oiling her hairTame your mane: Avoid using harsh sodium lauryl based shampoo everyday, or very frequently. Use an EDTA based shampoo [swimmer’s shampoo] at least once weekly to chelate the harmful chemical toxins deposited on the scalp. Rinse the shampoo properly to avoid any residues. Use a leave-in conditioner or a serum post shampoo, as it creates a barrier around the shaft of your hair and keeps it safe from the effects of pollution.
  8. Oil the damage away: Coconut oil is a great tool to protect the hair from damage. According to researchers, oil occupies the internal spaces in the hair and prevents entry of dust, dirt, pollutants and chemicals into the hair shaft, thus preventing hair damage.

A version of this article was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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